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Get AHED …

Get AHED …


07 Jun, 2017

… with an Access to Higher Education Diploma. Even if you think you don’t have the necessary qualifications for HE, the Diploma can help you get on to the courses you need to pursue a graduate profession. Take a look at our beginner’s guide to what’s involved …

Education plays an important role in individual personal development and, for many Access to HE students, the Diploma has helped them move into a graduate profession or to gain promotion. Course tutors provide a supportive, encouraging, yet challenging, environment to help adults make the transition to higher education. Students also use their life experiences to support their studies and one another, developing strong support networks to help them through the challenges of the course, and beyond.

‘The other students were all of the same mind-set; they were there to change their career pathways. There was a good atmosphere of mutual support, and to this day I am still in contact with many of my classmates.’
Richard Deacon

The Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is a qualification to prepare adults to succeed in higher education by giving them the skills, subject knowledge and confidence they need in a supportive and encouraging environment. It is equivalent to A-levels and is recognised by UK higher education providers. Each year, around 25,000 students successfully complete an Access to HE course and are accepted on to higher education courses; around half of them are aged 25 or older. Since QAA started collecting data in 1999, more than 330,000 of the mature students who gained an Access to HE Diploma have gone on to university and started a graduate profession or moved up the career ladder; many of them left school with few qualifications.

Subject matters

The first step is to decide the subject you’re going to study, make sure you have GCSEs and sort your funding options.

Now to find an Access to HE Diploma … QAA’s Access to HE website has a publicly searchable database of QAA-recognised Access to HE Diplomas to help you find one of more than 1,300 named Diplomas at 380 providers throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. See You can search by postcode, to find something close to where you live, or by subject area. There are Diplomas in subjects from art and design to sports studies, from health professions to engineering. However, not all subjects are available in all locations, so you may prefer to search by the name of the course provider to see if your local college offers the course of study you are looking for. If you think you would prefer to study at home, online, you can search by study mode and find a course that is offered by distance learning.

As well as finding out what courses are available close to where you need to study, home or work, you also need find out what subjects the universities you want to study at need you to have studied. Although many Diplomas have the same titles, this does not mean the detail of what you’ll study will be the same on each of these courses because there is no national curriculum for Access to HE Diplomas.

You’ve spoken to the college, you know when the course will be taught and how you’re going to pay for it (Enhanced Learning Credits? Publicly Funded FE/HE Scheme? Advanced Learner Loan?), but before you actually enrol, you may have an interview at the course provider to make sure you understand what’s expected, of you. It’s a chance for you to show you’ve done some research into the higher education course you’re interested in. You may also have to do a test (it’s only to make sure that it’s the right course of study for you because everyone wants you to succeed).

Getting started

Once you’ve enrolled and you’re ready to start studying, if you’ve chosen to do your Access to HE Diploma from home, by distance or online learning, you can probably start straight way. If you have chosen to attend college you may have to wait a while until the course starts. Most Diploma courses start in September and last for one year (you will usually have to complete your final assignments by the end of June), although many courses start enrolling in the spring before the course starts. You might be invited to join the college community online to get to know other students before you start; there may also be some induction tasks to do.

‘The tutors were fantastic and they quickly put us at ease, making allowances for the fact that mature students often have to juggle home and family life alongside their studies.’
Stuart Prior

The first few weeks

These are likely to involve an induction programme, getting to meet your fellow students, and forming those important new friendships and support networks. Although most Access to HE Diplomas are studied full-time, that doesn’t mean you’ll be at college between 0900 and 1700. You will probably be expected to attend college for around 12 to 15 hours a week; some of this time will be teaching time, some may be group study time, some may be tutorial time – time with your personal tutor, either in a group or one-to-one sessions – there may also be time for you to spend in the library and on research. You will get your timetable, and find out where you need to be and when. You will also have your first lessons, which may include study skills, researching universities and making your university application.

Aiming higher

It may seem a little daunting in your first few weeks to be making an application to university, especially if you haven’t been in a classroom for a long time, but you will get support from your course tutors and fellow students. Take some time to prepare your personal statement – this is your opportunity to sell yourself. If you have relevant experience through your working or personal life, include it. For example, if you’re interested in construction engineering, perhaps you’ve designed and built a playhouse for your children, or if you’re interested in teaching, perhaps you’ve shared your skills and knowledge with colleagues in previous roles, or you’ve volunteered in a youth group.

‘The qualification does what it says on the tin, and it prepares the student for university. Academics have the confidence to know that students have the skills they need.’
Lesley Griffin, University of Sunderland

Getting stuck in

You’ll also start your first unit of study and do your first assignment. You will be given a brief to explain what’s required of you and you will need to meet all the learning outcomes for each part of the assignment. Your tutor and other members of the group will be there to support you, and you will be able to support others too. Once you’ve successfully completed your first unit you’ll have the first credits towards the 60 required to achieve the Diploma. You will also receive a provisional grade for the work – either Pass, Merit or Distinction.

Before long, you’ll be busy with assignments, juggling your commitments to fit things in, being supported by, and supporting, your fellow students as you work towards the final few assignments of the course. You may have to sit an exam or timed assessment so that you really are well prepared for your first year at university, but you will be ready and confident in your success. You will receive your confirmed results around the same time as A-level results are published and, if you’ve met the terms of your university offer, you’ll have your place confirmed through the UCAS system at about the same time.

‘If you are thinking about Access to HE, don’t let what might be stop you – let what could be drive you! The course will provide all the skills you need to engage and be who you really want to be.’
Alan Searle

Your route to higher success

  1. Take the first step … Think about what subject area you would like to study. Do you want to progress in your current career? Do you want to change direction and try something new?
  2. Find out more … Look on the Access to HE website, read the real-life stories and search for Diplomas (by location, subject, provider or type of study).
  3. Talk to your education advisors … (find out about doing maths and English GCSEs before you start if you don’t already have them).
  4. Check your funding options … Could you get an Advanced Learner Loan? (QAA-recognised Access to HE Diplomas are eligible for Advanced Learner Loans and the balance of the loan will be cancelled when you complete your HE studies.) Could you use learning credits? Could you use the publicly funded FE/HE scheme?
  5. Contact providers to get more information … When does the course start? Where will you be taught? How much teaching time is there? How much time will you need to spend studying on your own? What support can you expect? When and how do you sign up? (Do you need to have an interview or test before you enrol?)
  6. Look at UCAS and university websites/speak to higher education admission staff … What are the entry requirements? (What qualifications do you need to get on the degree course?) Does the Access to HE Diploma you want to do meet these needs?

College-based full- and part-time courses usually start in September; distance learning courses tend to have different start dates throughout the year; some Diplomas are available for January starts.

On the course:

  • use your existing skills and learn new ones
  • develop a new support network.

Find out more

You may also find these websites helpful:
Access to HE website
Real-life stories
Diploma database
Advanced Learner Loans

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